« Prev The Epistle to the Ephesians Next »

§ 95. The Epistle to the Ephesians.


When Paul took leave of the Ephesian Elders at Miletus, in the spring of the year 58, he earnestly and affectionately exhorted them, in view of threatening disturbances from within, to take heed unto themselves and to feed "the church of the Lord, which he acquired with his own blood."11591159    Acts 20:28. Some of the best authorities (א, B, Vulg., etc.) read "church of God." So also Westcott and Hort, and the English Revision; but the American Committee prefers, with Tischendorf, the reading τοῦ κυρίου, which is supported by A, C*, D, E, etc., and suits better in this connection. Paul often speaks of "the church of God," but nowhere of "the blood of God." Possibly, as Dr. Hort suggests, υἱοῦ may have dropped out in a very early copy after τοῦ ἰδίου. See a full discussion by Dr. Abbot, in "Bibl. Sacra" for 1876, pp. 313 sqq. (for κυρίου), and by Westcott and Hort, Greek Test., II., Notes, pp. 98 sqq. (for θεοῦ).

This strikes the key-note of the Epistle to the Ephesians. It is a doctrinal and practical exposition of the idea of the church, as the house of God (Eph. 2:20–22), the spotless bride of Christ (5:25–27), the mystical body of Christ (4:12–16), "the fulness of Him that filleth all in all" (1:23). The pleroma of the Godhead resides in Christ corporeally; so the pleroma of Christ, the plenitude of his graces and energies, resides in the church, as his body. Christ’s fulness is God’s fulness; the church’s fulness is Christ’s fulness. God is reflected in Christ, Christ is reflected in the church.

This is an ideal conception, a celestial vision, as it were, of the church in its future state of perfection. Paul himself represents the present church militant as a gradual growth unto the complete stature of Christ’s fulness (4:13–16). We look in vain for an actual church which is free from spot or wrinkle or blemish (5:27). Even the apostolic church was full of defects, as we may learn from every Epistle of the New Testament. The church consists of individual Christians, and cannot be complete till they are complete. The body grows and matures with its several members. "It is not yet made manifest what we shall be" (1 John 3:2).

Nevertheless, Paul’s church is not a speculation or fiction, like Plato’s Republic or Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. It is a reality in Christ, who is absolutely holy, and is spiritually and dynamically present in his church always, as the soul is present in the members of the body. And it sets before us the high standard and aim to be kept constantly in view; as Christ exhorts every one individually to be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48).

With this conception of the church is closely connected Paul’s profound and most fruitful idea of the family. He calls the relation of Christ to his church a great mystery (Eph. 5:32), and represents it as the archetype of the marriage relation, whereby one man and one woman become one flesh. He therefore bases the family on new and holy ground, and makes it a miniature of the church, or the household of God. Accordingly, husbands are to love their wives even as Christ loved the church, his bride, and gave himself up for her; wives are to obey their husbands as the church is subject to Christ, the head; parents are to love their children as Christ and the church love the individual Christians; children are to love their parents as individual Christians are to love Christ and the church. The full and general realization of this domestic ideal would be heaven on earth. But how few families come up to this standard.11601160    For a fine analysis of the Epistle, I refer to Braune’s Com. in the Lange Series (translated by Dr. Riddle). He adopts a twofold, Stier and Alford a threefold (trinitarian) division. See also Dr. Riddle’s clear analysis in Schaff’s Popular Com. on the New Test., III. (1882). p. 355. I. Doctrinal Part, chs. 1-3: The church, the mystical body of Christ, chosen, redeemed, and united in Christ. II. Practical Part. chs. 4-6: Therefore, let all the members of the church walk in unity, in love, in newness of life, in the armor of God. But we should remember that the Epistle is not strictly systematic, and the doctrinal expositions and practical exhortations interlace each other.

Ephesians and the Writings of John.

Paul emphasizes the person of Christ in Colossians, the person and agency of the Holy Spirit in Ephesians. For the Holy Spirit carries on the work of Christ in the church. Christians are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise unto the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). The spirit of wisdom and revelation imparts the knowledge of Christ 1:17; 3:16. Christians should be filled with the Spirit (5:18), take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and pray in the Spirit at all seasons (6:17, 18).

The pneumatology of Ephesians resembles that of John, as the christology of Colossians resembles the christology of John. It is the Spirit who takes out of the "fulness" of Christ, and shows it to the believer, who glorifies the Son and guides into the truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13–15, etc.). Great prominence is given to the Spirit also in Romans, Galatians, Corinthians, and the Acts of the Apostles.

John does not speak of the church and its outward organization (except in the Apocalypse), but he brings Christ in as close and vital a contact with the individual disciples as Paul with the whole body. Both teach the unity of the church as a fact, and as an aim to be realized more and more by the effort of Christians, and both put the centre of unity in the Holy Spirit.

Encyclical Intent

Ephesians was intended not only for the church at Ephesus, the metropolis of Asia Minor, but for all the leading churches of that district. Hence the omission of the words "in Ephesus" (Eph. 1:1) in some of the oldest and best MSS.11611161    ἐν Ἐφέσῶ is omitted in the Sinaitic and Vatican MSS. Marcion retained the Epistle under the title "To the Laodicenes," as Tertullian reports. Dr. Hort says: "Transcriptional evidence strongly supports the testimony of documents against ἐν Ἐφέσῶ." The arguments of Meyer and of Woldemar Schmidt (in the fifth ed. of Meyer on Colossians) in favor of the words are not conclusive. Hence, also, the absence of personal and local intelligence. The encyclical destination may be inferred also from the reference in Col. 4:16 to the Epistle to the church of Laodicea, which the Colossians were to procure and to read, and which is probably identical with our canonical Epistle to the Ephesians."11621162    This was already the view of Marcion in the second century. Meyer, however, in loc., insists that another letter is meant, which was lost, like one to the Corinthians. The apocryphal Ep. to the Laodiceans (in Fabricius, Cod. Apocr. N. T., I. 873 sqq.), consisting of twenty verses, is a mere fabrication from the other Epistles of Paul. It was forbidden by the Second Council of Nicaea (787).

Character and Value of the Epistle.

Ephesians is the most churchly book of the New Testament. But it presupposes Colossians, the most Christly of Paul’s Epistles. Its churchliness is rooted and grounded in Christliness, and has no sense whatever if separated from this root. A church without Christ would be, at best, a praying corpse (and there are such churches). Paul was at once the highest of high churchmen, the most evangelical of evangelicals, and the broadest of the broad, because most comprehensive in his grasp and furthest removed from all pedantry and bigotry of sect or party.11631163    But the very reverse of churchy. Nothing can be further removed from the genius of Paul than that narrow, mechanical, and pedantic churchiness which sticks to the shell of outward forms and ceremonies, and mistakes them for the kernel within.

Ephesians is, in some respects, the most profound and difficult (though not the most important) of his Epistles. It certainly is the most spiritual and devout, composed in an exalted and transcendent state of mind, where theology rises into worship, and meditation into oration. It is the Epistle of the Heavenlies (τὰ ἐπουράνια), a solemn liturgy, an ode to Christ and his spotless bride, the Song of Songs in the New Testament. The aged apostle soared high above all earthly things to the invisible and eternal realities in heaven. From his gloomy confinement he ascended for a season to the mount of transfiguration. The prisoner of Christ, chained to a heathen soldier, was transformed into a conqueror, clad in the panoply of God, and singing a paean of victory.

The style has a corresponding rhythmical flow and overflow, and sounds at times like the swell of a majestic organ.11641164    Eph. 5:14 may be a part of a primitive hymn after the type of Hebrew parallelism:
   "Awake thou that sleepest,

   Arise thou from the dead

   And Christ will shine upon thee."
It is very involved and presents unusual combinations, but this is owing to the pressure and grandeur of ideas; besides, we must remember that it was written in Greek, which admits of long periods and parentheses. In Eph. 1:3–14 we have one sentence with no less than seven relative clauses, which rise like a thick cloud of incense higher and higher to the very throne of God.11651165    In literal English translation such a sentence is unquestionably heavy and cumbrous. Unsympathetic critics, like De Wette, Baur, Renan, Holtzmann, characterize the style of Ephesians as verbose, diffuse, overloaded, monotonous, and repetitious. But Grotius, a first-class classical scholar, describes it (in his Preface) as "rerum sublimitatem adaequans verbis sublimioribus quam ulla habuit unquam lingua humana." Harless asserts that not a single word in the Epistle is superfluous, and has proved it in his very able commentary. Alford (III. 25) remarks: "As the wonderful effect of the Spirit of inspiration on the mind of man is nowhere in Scripture more evident than in this Epistle, so, to discern those things of the Spirit, is the spiritual mind here more than anywhere required." He contrasts, under this view, the commentaries of De Wette and Stier, putting rather too high an estimate on the latter. Maurice (Unity of the N. T., p. 535): "Every one must be conscious of an overflowing fulness in the style of this Epistle, as if the apostle’s mind could not contain the thoughts that were at work in him, as if each one that he uttered had a luminous train before it and behind it, from which it could not disengage itself." Bishop Ellicott says that the difficulties of the first chapter are "so great and so deep that the most exact language and the most discriminating analysis are too poor and too weak to convey the force or connection of expressions so august, and thoughts so unspeakably profound." Dr. Riddle: "It is the greatness of the Epistle which makes it so difficult; the thought seems to struggle with the words, which seem insufficient to convey the transcendent idea."

Luther reckoned Ephesians among "the best and noblest books of the New Testament." Witsius characterized it as a divine Epistle glowing with the flame of Christian love and the splendor of holy light. Braune says: "The exalted significance of the Epistle for all time lies in its fundamental idea: the church of Jesus Christ a creation of the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, decreed from eternity, destined for eternity; it is the ethical cosmos; the family of God gathered in the world and in history and still further to be gathered, the object of his nurture and care in time and in eternity."

These are Continental judgments. English divines are equally strong in praise of this Epistle. Coleridge calls it "the sublimest composition of man;" Alford: "the greatest and most heavenly work of one whose very imagination is peopled with things in the heavens;" Farrar: "the Epistle of the Ascension, the most sublime, the most profound, and the most advanced and final utterance of that mystery of the gospel which it was given to St. Paul for the first time to proclaim in all its fulness to the Gentile world."

Theme: The church of Christ, the family of God, the fulness of Christ.

Leading Thoughts: God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love (Eph. 1:4). In him we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace (1:7). He purposed to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth (1:10). God gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all (1:23). God, being rich in mercy, quickened us together with Christ and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus (2:4–6). By grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, that no man should glory (2:8, 9). Christ is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition (2:14). Ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone (2:19, 20). Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach Unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (3:8). That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God (3:17–19). Give diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (4:3). There is one body, and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all (4:6). He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints (4:11, 12). Speak the truth in love (4:15). Put on the new man, which after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth (4:24). Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for as, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell (5:1, 2). Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord (5:22). Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it (5:25). This mystery is great; but I speak in regard of Christ and of the church (5:32). Children, obey your parents in the Lord (6:1). Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (6:11).

« Prev The Epistle to the Ephesians Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection